I am not a fan of labels, particularly when applied to people as a “broad-brush”, “paint-by-numbers” descriptive. However, those same labels tend to help cut to the chase when trying to provide explanations for one’s own perspective – provided that everyone agrees on the wider definitions applied to those terms. When I get asked to describe myself to a group of strangers (or even people who only know me in one contextual aspect), I have a tendency to fall back to those labeling adjectives of “Pagan”, “Druid”, “Coder”, and “Hippie.” All, when utilized under the definitions I apply to those terms, are very accurate depictions of who I am. But not everyone uses the same definitions applied to the same symbolic terminology set. And therein lies the rub of it all.
Pagans, Druids and Coders tend to provide some of the similar aspects of modernist symbology. Pagans are tree-hugging, over-reaching environmentalists trekking through suburban environments in their sandals screaming about saving the environment while waving their Starbucks coffee in their gesturing hand with their iPhone firmly grasped in the other. Druids are those guys that dress all in white, let their beards grow down to their nether regions, and meditate under the small sapling that the city planted on the urban street environment. Coders tend to sleep during the day, wear clothes that haven’t seen an iron since Romeo Muller won a Peabody award for “The Hobbit”, and walk around the hallways of their work environment in search of caffeine while muttering about WHILE loops and broken hierarchical tree structures. Am I right?? Accurate depictions?? Of course not, but all are somewhat accurate (if not comical) depictions of who I am to one degree or another.
Yet, it is the simple term “hippie” that gets most “mainstream” people (I tend to call them “squares”) bent out of shape, if you will. Thanks to some rather repugnant campaigns to malign and impugn the hippie counter-culture of the late 1960s, the usage of the term immediately shoots the image of the drug-addled, unkempt individual just sitting in the middle of wherever, focused on nothing at all. In fact, the hippie is generally viewed as an individual who has “turned-on and dropped-out” of regular society. The comedic overtones of this rather cartoon-ish image has been quite pervasive. Coupled with the accuracy of some aspects of this perspective, the wide brushed painting has completed the immediate coloring of an individual identifying with the hippie perspective as being just that – someone who is more in-tune with smoking weed, and not wanting the harshness of reality impinging on those emotions and feelings that are induced by whatever high is available.
However, while the drug culture is a big part of the conversation concerning the hippie, it is certainly not all of that conversation. In fact, it is small enough that the drug aspect is not even the truest aspect of what a hippie seeks within existence. That would really be the perspective of “freedom” which immediately begs the question – what does it mean to be free?
The answer to this, in my mind’s eye, depends on the person. However, I believe it can be boiled down to an essential element that a person is allowed to do as they see fit, within the bounds and limits of societal concepts, as well as limits placed on us by law. Now, the right-ness or wrong-ness of those laws can be debated to one degree or another, but that is a discussion for another blog post. But a hippie, from my own personal understanding, just merely wants the freedom to do as they see fit – and be left alone to do those actions. That doesn’t mean that every hippie is just waiting for people to leave them alone at their campfire in the woods, so that they can blaze up a fat one. Not every hippie wants or needs drugs. However, they should be free to do so, provided they do no harm to others when doing so. Essentially, a ‘live and let live’ theory to life, if you will.
In his book “Hippies and American Values”, Timothy Miller stated the hippie ethos, in terms of a religious movement, was meant to move beyond the limitations that were experienced within the mainstream religious institutions. In this, I would agree – this is what the reference towards being a hippie is about for me. Hippies, for the most part, were unafraid to try something new, to move outside the barriers created by monolithic institutions and binary thought. Miller also denoted that “…like many dissenting religions, the hippies were enormously hostile to the religious institutions of the dominant culture, and the tried to find new and adequate ways to do the tasks the dominant religions failed to perform.” That one quote really embodies what I believe is a dominant theme within the Pagan systems that have grown since those emotional moments in the late 1960s. There is no “war” to speak of, merely an abandonment of religious practices that no longer held any formative meaning for those wanting and needing more from their Spiritual lives and practices.
When I am asked how I feel that I am like the hippies of those difficult times of the 1960s, this is the area that I have staked out as my own reasoning. I was raised as a Protestant, sent to all-boys Catholic schools so that my experience of the Christian faith would be widened and deepened, as my father relayed to me about three years prior to his passing beyond the veil. My parents were not devout religionists of any flavor. We never attended church services. I was not encouraged to look beyond what was offered, because it was mainstream and acceptable – exactly what my parents wanted of my life. I wanted something different. I wanted freedom. I wanted something where I belonged. Where I felt like I was who I am. Where I could believe what I believed in my heart.
So I am a hippie. I am not ashamed of that label or title. But what it means to me, freedom, is far different than the ramshackle image of a cartoon-ish, drug-addled, munchie-driven Maynard G. Krebs that society has attached to the term. Rather than being driven away from the term….or cringe when squares flash a “v for victory” sign at me with their fingers and murmur the stereo-typical “peace, man” slogan…I am reminded of the meaning it holds for me – the Seeker. The individual driven by the need to find ways of connecting with the world around me in ways that have meaning and depth for who I am.